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Movie Review: Righteous Kill

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For any true film fan, seeing legends Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on screen together should be one of life’s highest priorities. Yes, they were both in The Godfather Part II (where technically De Niro played Pacino’s father) and Heat but they never were on screen together for an extended or satisfying period of time. Along comes Righteous Kill, the film we’ve all been waiting for in order to see these two acting heavyweights team up. It’s for that reason that I find myself inconceivably disappointed by it; not even two of the best actors to have ever lived can save this nonsense.

The film follows two veteran New York detectives working together to catch a serial killer who is killing criminals who have gotten away with murders they have previously been charged with. But what at first seems like a simple enough case soon gets more and more complex as the body count rises and the the search for the killer brings people they never expected under suspicion.

What happened to Robert De Niro and Al Pacino? These used to be two of the most respected men in the business and they have given some of cinema’s all time greatest performances. For Pacino it is The Godfather, Scarface, and Dog Day Afternoon and for De Niro it is Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and The Godfather Part II. So again, what happened to these guys? Save for a couple of roles, and even that may be pushing it, over the last ten years or so they have done crap after crap after crap. Is it the money? Are they riding on the fact that they once were the very best acting had to offer? Are they just lazy? It’s not as if they don’t have the ability to tell the difference between a good and bad project and yet they seem to contribute to the latter far too often.

You’d surely think that the combined efforts of such great actors would produce something as outstanding as their legendary status would suggest. But no, largely due to the terrible script this is simply straight to DVD stuff and of no interest whatsoever save for the two leads. Can we give them the benefit of the doubt because of who they are? I think I can stretch to that but it doesn’t mean the movie can be completely forgiven. The dialogue here is some of the worst I’ve heard in months (perhaps years), which surprises me since the script is penned by Russell Gewirtz, who wrote the excellent Inside Man (which was his first feature film script, I might add). So, although the blame for what is so bad about Righteous Kill falls mostly on the script, I can’t see how this writer could have come up with something quite so bad considering his previous effort.

The remaining blame can be put firmly in the lap of director Jon Avnet. He was recently behind the camera working with Pacino on 88 Minutes, a film which almost universally got slammed. So why then does the studio allow this guy to direct another film with Pacino co-starring as one of the leads? I simply have no idea. Avnet doesn’t possess a lick of skill, at least not for this type of crime film anyway. It’s not just mediocre where you could say the director is interchangeable with any other average Joe guy in the business, it's flat-out bad. There’s nothing thrilling, exciting, tense or even gritty as you would hope from a crime/thriller. Instead we get a slick look to it, one which takes away all believability one might hope to gain from this type of film. For me one of the things I love about crime films, especially ones set in New York (see Taxi Driver as a perfect example of this), is how gritty they usually feel, how dirty and realistic they put themselves across to the viewer. But no, everything looks shiny and “factory packaged”, so to speak, and it’s one of the inexcusable crimes that the film commits.

The only remotely believable thing in Righteous Kill is a couple of the supporting actors, Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo. Both aren’t exceptional or anything, certainly not by standards set by them or others who have played similar roles, but they stand out as being better than most other things here (a sad comment when they are rubbing shoulders with two of cinema’s greats). Everyone else, including the usually great Carla Gugino and the absolutely horrible (as an actor) 50 Cent, are superficial, two-dimensional caricatures that even the most inexperienced of film-goers could think up in a few seconds.

The film seems to think that its storyline is something fresh and unique but it’s far from it. Plenty of other films before this have done similar things far better than this does, and the so-called twist at the end (not to give anything away, mind you) is one of the most painfully obvious to come along in years. No one involved, including De Niro and Pacino, does anything to lift the trite story and eye-rolling dialogue off ground zero which results in little worthwhile to be found in Righteous Kill out with a sort of morbid curiosity. And it physically hurts me to say that about a film which finally sees two legendary icons team up. They deserve better than this.

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